7-4-3 The Cross and the Judgment

So Isaiah 6 shows the Lord Jesus as enthroned in glory upon the cross. John says that Isaiah saw the Lord in His glory at this time. Yet He will sit on His throne of glory when He returns in judgment (Mt. 25:31). So there is a connection between the cross and the judgment. There the Lord sat (and sits) enthroned in judgment. There, “The Lord reigned from the tree" (Ps. 96:10 LXX- the context is of the final judgment, and yet the image is so appropriate to the Lord’s death). Men smote “the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek" (Mic. 5:1). The RVmg. of Mk. 14:65 says that the Lord was hit with “strokes of rods". Perhaps it was in this sense that the rod comforted Messiah (Ps. 23:4) in that He saw immediately that prophecy was being fulfilled in Him. Our darkest moments likewise can be our greatest encouragement if only we perceive them as we should. As men mocked Him and smote Him, thus they were treating their judge at the time of judgment. In His time of dying, the Lord Jesus was the judge of Israel. This explains why when we come before the cross, not only at the breaking of bread but whenever we come into contact with Him, or reflect upon Him and His death, we are in some sense coming before Him in judgment. Indeed, any meeting of God with man, or His Son with men, is effectively some kind of judgment process. The brightness of their light inevitably, by its very nature, shows up the dark shadows of our lives. In the cross we see the glory of the Lord Jesus epitomised and presented in its most concentrated form. In Jn. 12:31,32, in the same passage in which Isaiah 6 and 53 are connected and applied to the crucifixion, He Himself foretold that His death would be “the judgment of this world". And He explained in the next breath that His being ‘lifted up from the earth’ (an Isaiah 6 allusion) would gather all men unto Him (cp. “all men" being gathered to the last judgment, Is. 49:22; 62:10; Mt. 25:32). When He was lifted up, then the Jews would know their judgments (Jn. 8:26-28). It is also worth musing on 1 Pet. 2:23, which speaks of the Lord in His time of dying committing Himself “to him that judgeth righteously". It’s as if the Father judged the world as unworthy and His Son as worthy in the time of the Lord’s death. It is possible to read Jn. 19:13 as meaning that Pilate sat Him (Jesus) down on the judgment seat, on the pavement, replete with allusion to the sapphire pavement of Ex. 24. The Gospel of Peter 3:7 actually says this happened: “And they clothed him with purple and sat him on a chair of judgment, saying, Judge justly, King of Israel".

Both the cross and the final judgment (Rev. 14:7,15) are described in John’s writings as ‘the hour coming’; the parallel language indicates that he presents the cross as the essence of the judgment. Is. 53 speaks of the Lord as being “bruised" upon the cross. But Is. 42:4 had earlier used this language about Christ, saying that He would be bruised with the result that he would “set judgment in the earth" (RVmg.). His bruising thus set forth judgment to all. We have suggested above that there was a sedile or seat affixed to the cross, on which the victim sat in order to get temporary relief. Thus some accounts of crucifixion describe the victim as mounting the cross as one would mount a horse. This would make the cross capable of interpretation as some kind of seat or throne. And significantly, there are men on the right hand and left of the Lord, one rejected, the other gloriously accepted. It is possible to translate the repentant thief as telling the other: “Do you not fear God when you stand condemned?". Before Jesus crucified, we all stand condemned. And he stresses that “we are condemned justly" (Lk. 23:41), for it was evident to all that here hung a just / righteous man. He, there, the just hanging for the unjust, convicts us of sin. Somehow the repentant thief came to know Jesus in the deepest possible sense. Truly could he address him as “Lord", perceiving already how the cross had made Him “Lord and Christ". The thief knew that judgment day was coming, and asked to be remembered for good there. He was surely alluding to Ps. 106:4: “Remember me, Lord, in the course of favouring your people. Visit me with your salvation". And this connection between the cross and the judgment was evidently impressed upon the thief. Doubtless he also had in mind the desperate plea of Joseph: “Have me in remembrance when…" you come into your position of power (Gen. 40:14 RV). The thief had perhaps meditated upon the implications of the Lord’s prayer: “Thy kingdom come". He saw it as now being certain because of the cross- “when you come in your Kingdom…". And yet he felt as if he was in prospect already there before the coming King, as he hung there before Him on the cross.

Further connection between the cross and the judgment is found in considering Zech. 12:10, which states that men would look upon the pierced (i.e. crucified) Saviour, and mourn in recognition of their own sinfulness. This verse is quoted as having fulfilment both at the crucifixion (Jn. 19:37) and also at the final judgment (Rev. 1:7). There is strong connection between these two events. And so it has been observed that the cross divided men into two categories: The repentant thief and the bitter one; the soldiers who mocked and the Centurion who believed; the Sanhedrin members who believed and those who mocked; the women who lamented but didn't obey His word, and those whose weeping isn't recorded, but who stood and watched and thought; the people who beat their breasts in repentance, and those who mocked as to whether Elijah would come to save the Lord. Reflect for a moment upon the fact that the women wept, and amongst them were the Lord’s relatives (Lk. 23:27). Lamentation for criminals on their way to die was not permitted in public. Suetonius (Tiberius 61) reports that “the relatives [of the crucified] were forbidden to go into mourning". Likewise Tacitus (Annals 6.19), Philo (In Flaccum 9,72) and Josephus (Wars Of The Jews 2.13.3,253). This is all quite some evidence, from a variety of writers. So why did they make this great sacrifice, take this great risk? The cross has power. Whether we feel it is impossible for us to be emotional, given our personality type, or whether we feel so lost in our own griefs that we cannot feel for Him there, somehow sustained reflection on the cross will lead us out of this. We will mourn, come what may. Yet the tragedy is that those women who risked so much didn’t necessarily maintain that level of commitment to the end. For the Lord had to tell them that they should weep for themselves given the calamity that would befall them and their children in AD70- for they would not listen to Him.

The language of Is. 63:1-5 applies with equal appropriacy to both the cross and the judgment. It is the time when the servant gains salvation and redemption for His people, alone, when all others have failed, with stained clothes reminiscent of Joseph’s, with all their reference to the death and resurrection of the Lord… and this is far from the only example of where prophecies can apply to both the crucifixion and the final judgment.

There seems to be a link made between the Lord’s death and the judgment in Rom. 8:34: “Who is he that judgeth / condemneth? It is Christ that died…", as if He and His death are the ultimate judgment. The OT idea of judgment was that in it, the Lord speaks, roars and cries, and there is an earthquake and eclipse of the sun (Joel 3:16; Am. 1:2; Jer. 25:30; Ps. 46:7; Rev. 10:3). Yet all these things are associated with the Lord’s death. God will judge every man’s work “forasmuch as ye know that ye were...redeemed...with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb slain..." (1 Pet. 1:17-19). The link between our judgment and Christ’s death needs to be reflected upon here. Our appreciation (“forasmuch...") of the cross is related to how we will be judged. The Lord’s death should influence our works and therefore it is intimately related to our final judgment. We will be judged in accordance with how far we have let the cross influence our daily works.

The cross leads to thoughts being revealed (Lk. 2:35); and the judgment process likewise will lead to thoughts being revealed (s.w. in Mt. 10:26; 1 Cor. 3:13; 4:5). The Lord’s death is described as His washing “his garments in wine, and his vesture in the blood of grapes" (Gen. 49:11 RV). Treading out the grapes is a Hebraism for judgment, and yet it is used here and in Is. 63:1-3 regarding the Lord’s treading of the winepress alone in His death. Indeed, the Isaiah passage is clearly applicable to both the crucifixion and the final judgment of the Lord Jesus. The reason being, that in His death was the judgment of this world.

When the disciples got carried away wondering where the future judgment would be and how ever they would get there, the Lord replied that where the body is, thither the eagles naturally gather. One of the well known shames of crucifixion was that the body was pecked by birds, even before death occurred. The idea of an uncovered body attracting birds (i.e. the believers) would have been readily understood as a crucifixion allusion. Whilst this may seem an inappropriate symbol, it wouldn’t be the only time the Bible uses language which we may deem unfitting. Consider how Ps. 78:65,66 likens God to a drunk man awakening and flailing out at His enemies, striking them in the private parts. I always have to adjust my specs and read this again before I can really accept that this is what it says. So in Mt. 24:28, the Lord seems to be responding to the disciples’ query about the physicalities of the future judgment by saying that in reality, His crucifixion would in essence be their judgment, and this is what they should rather concern themselves with. They would gather together unto it and through this know the verdict upon them, all quite naturally, as eagles are gathered by natural instinct to the carcass. The thief on the cross wanted the Lord to remember him for good at judgment day. Yet He replied that He could tell him today, right now, the result of the judgment- the thief would be accepted. It’s as if the Lord even in that agony of mind and body…realized keenly that He, there, that fateful afternoon, was sitting in essence on the judgment throne. And for us too, the Lord on Calvary is our constant and insistent judge. It could even be that when the Lord told the Sanhedrin that they would see the son of man coming in judgment (Mk. 14:62), He was referring to the cross. For how will they exactly see Him coming in judgment at the last day?

One of the most powerful links between the cross and the judgment is to be found in Jn. 3:14-21 (which seems to be John’s commentary rather than the words of Jesus Himself). Parallels are drawn between:

- The snake lifted up on the pole (=the crucifixion), teaching that whoever believes in the crucified Christ should live

- God so loving the world (language elsewhere specifically applied to the crucifixion: Rom. 5:8; 1 Jn. 3:16; 4:10,11)

- God giving His Son (on the cross, Rom. 5:15; 8:32; 1 Cor. 11:24), that whoever believes in Him should live

- God sending His Son to save the world (1 Jn. 4:10; Gal. 4:4 cp. Jn. 12:23,27; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1)

- Light coming into the world (at His death, the darkness was ended).

All these phrases can refer to the life and person of the Lord; but sometimes they are specifically applied to the cross. And further, they are prefaced here in Jn. 3 by a reference to the Lord as the snake lifted up on the pole. The essence of the Lord, indeed the essence of God Himself, was openly displayed in it’s most crystallised form in the cross. There was the epitome of love, of every component of God’s glory, revealed to the eyes of men. There above all, the light of God’s love and glory came into the world. In this context John’s comment continues: “This is the condemnation / judgment, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest". If we understand “the light" as pre-eminently the cross, we see further evidence that there indeed was and is the judgment of this world. The Lord described His impending death as “the judgment of this world" (Jn. 12:31); and here He says that the judgment of this word is that He is the light of the world and men shy away from Him. The link between the light of the world and the snake being lifted up on the pole would have been more evident to Hebrew readers and thinkers than it is to us. The “pole" on which the snake was lifted up was a standard, a pole on which often a lamp would be lifted up: “a beacon upon the top of a mountain...an ensign (s.w.) on an hill" (Is. 30:17). The ‘light’ would have been understood as a burning light rather than, e.g., the sun. The light of which the Lord spoke would have been understood as a torch, lifted up on a standard. The same Greek word is used in describing how the jailor asked for a “light", i.e. a blazing torch, in order to inspect the darkened prison (Acts 16:29). Speaking in the context of the snake lifted up on a pole, Jesus would have been inviting His audience to see Him crucified as the light of their lives. And this would explain why Isaiah seems to parallel the nations coming to the ensign / standard / pole of Christ, and them coming to the Him as light of the world (Is. 5:26; 11:10,12; 18:3; 39:9; 49:22; 62:10 cp. 42:6; 49:6; 60:3).Lk. 1:78,79 foretold how the Lord would be a lamp to those in darkness- and this had a strange fulfilment in His death. His example there on the cross was a light amidst the darkness that descended on the world. In the light of His cross, true self-examination is possible. Significantly perhaps, the Greek word for “light" occurs in Lk. 22:56, where Peter sits by the “fire" and was exposed. It was as if Peter was acting out a parable of how the “light" of association with the suffering Christ makes our deeds manifest. The day of “light" is both the crucifixion, and the last day of judgment, when all our deeds will be made manifest before the light (Lk. 12:3). By coming to the cross and allowing it to influence our self-examination, we come to judgment in advance.

Is. 45:20-24 speaks of how “all the ends of the earth" will look unto “a just God and a Saviour [Jesus]" and be saved- evident reference back to the brazen serpent lifted up for salvation. The result of this is that to Him “every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess" his moral failures, rejoicing that “in the Lord have I righteousness and strength...in the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory". These words are quoted in Phil. 2:11 in description of the believer’s response to the suffering Saviour. And yet they are quoted again in Rom. 14:10-12 regarding our confession of sin before the Lord at judgment day. The connections mean simply this: before the Lord’s cross, we bow our knee and confess our failures, knowing the imputation of His righteousness, in anticipation of how we will bow before Him and give our miserable account at the judgment. And both processes are wonderfully natural. We must simply allow the power of a true faith in His cross to work out its own way in us. At the judgment, no flesh will glory in himself, but only in the Lord Jesus(1 Cor. 1:29). And even now, we glory in His cross (Gal. 6:14).

Is. 45:23-25 cp. Rom. 14:11,12, about our reaction at the judgment seat

Phil. 2, about our reaction to the cross of Christ today

:23 every knee shall bow

:10 every knee shall bow

:23 every tongue shall swear

:11 every tongue shall confess

:24 in the Lord

:11 Jesus Christ is Lord

:25 shall glory

:11 to the glory of God

Clearly our response to the cross is a foretaste of our response to the judgment experience. In a similar way, the connexion between the cross and the judgment is solidified by the image of the winepress. It is used in Rev. 14:19 as a figure for the final judgment by Jesus; but this passage is in turn quoting from Is. 63:1-6, where the treading of the winepress " without the city" is clearly with reference to the Lord's crucifixion " without the gate" (Heb. 13:12). As He said, in His death, there was the judgment of this world.

There is a powerful practical result of this connection between the cross and the judgment. The Lord brings it out when He gives three reasons for denying ourselves and taking up the cross; the final and most compelling is “For (because) the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then shall he give every man according to his works" (Mt. 16:24,27). Take up the cross, do what is hard for you spiritually, because this is the basis upon which you will be judged- how far you took up the cross, really denied yourself. Before the cross of Christ, we know the way we ought to take. Before the judgment seat, we will know likewise. But we make the answer now. On the cross, the Lord Jesus was ‘manifested’, shown as He really and essentially is (Heb. 9:26; 1 Pet. 1:19,20; 1 Jn. 3:5,8; 1 Tim. 3:16). But the same word is also used about the final manifesting of the Lord Jesus at His return (Col. 3:4; 1 Pet. 5:4; 1 Jn. 2:28; 3:2). This explains the link between the cross and His return; who He was then will be who He will be when He comes in judgment. There He endured the spitting and hatred of men in order to save them. And the same gracious spirit will be extended to all His true people, whatever their inadequacies.

The second coming will be our meeting with the Lord who died for us. To come before Him then will be in essence the same as coming before His cross. Rev. 16 describes the events of the second coming, and yet it is full of allusion back to the cross: “it is done", the temple of heaven opened (16:17); an earthquake (16:18), a cup of wine (16:19). We were redeemed by the blood of Jesus; and yet His return and judgment of us is also our “day of redemption" (Lk. 21:28; Rom. 8:23; Eph. 4:30). Yet that day was essentially the cross; but it is also in the day of judgment. Likewise, we are “justified" by the blood of Jesus. Yet the idea of justification is a declaring righteous after a judgment; as if the cross was our judgment, and through our belief in the Lord we were subsequently declared justified, as we will be in the Last Day. The judgment quality of the crucifixion is further reflected by the way in which the Lord speaks of both the cross and the day of future judgment as " the hour" (Jn. 5:25-29). When the Lord taught that " the hour" is both to come and " now is" , He surely meant us to understand that in His crucifixion, properly perceived, there is the judgment of this world, the end of this age for us who believe in Him, the cutting off of sin. The way that the Lord Jesus is 'sat down upon' the Judgment Bench by Pilate, as if He is the authentic judge, is further confirmation that in His Passion, the Lord was truly Judge of this world (1).


(1) For justification of reading the Greek kathizo as a transitive verb ['to sit someone down'], see I. de la Potterie, 'Jesus King and Judge According To John 19:13', Scripture Vol. 13 (1961) p.p. 97-111 and Wayne Meeks, The Prophet-King (Leiden: Brill, 1967) pp. 73-76.

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